Processing Complex Emotions Post-Break

Yuritza Escalante
Yuritza Escalante

Returning home from school is often characterized as being a joyful time, marked by the reconciliation of family and friends. College students that have moved away from home, whether it be by moving into an apartment down the street or to another city, have the opportunity to return to their loved ones after not seeing them for multiple days, weeks, or months. They have the chance to be present with the people that have been placed into their lives without having to worry about the stress of school. Sadly, this heartfelt reunion is not a reality for everyone returning home.

Moving away from home for college is often the first chance a young adult has to foster their independence and live in an environment where they can take responsibility for their overall well-being. One major area that a person can work on while being away from family is their mental health. However, returning home after a few months of separation and independence can be difficult. For some, they may not even realize the complex feelings they have regarding returning home until they’re there.

When we are born, we are placed into an environment that is essentially constructed by chance: the culture of the family, economic status, and location all play a part. The ancestors that were born before us, have taken on their own set of challenges that have gotten them to that particular moment in which the child is being born. Therefore, that child is raised with the capabilities and knowledge that their caregivers have accumulated from their own families and experiences. Although I would like to assume that caregivers have the best intentions with the practices that they impose onto their children, not all of those learned practices are adaptable once a child no longer lives with that immediate family. The young adult is then faced with the challenge of differentiating between practices that will either be dysfunctional or helpful as they develop into adulthood. This is essentially the basis of intergenerational trauma. 

College students moving away from home creates distance from the hardships that their family has gone, or currently go through, which in turn allows young adults to make these distinctions. However, reconciling with family can be a confusing time in the sense that people that have begun doing the internal work to move away from any harmful practices are reintroduced into the environment that initially taught them the practices. This has the potential of bringing up emotions such as resentment, anger, or hurt while spending time with loved ones. These emotions are in no way easy to deal with, especially during a time that is expected to be filled with joy. 

There is no one solution that I could provide for how to handle being faced with these difficult situations. However, I can acknowledge that these emotions are valid if you are someone that has faced, or is currently facing, difficult emotions when reconciling with family. It is also okay to seek help while experiencing these times. These types of emotions can oftentimes be dismissed, whether that be intentionally or unintentionally. It is important to acknowledge that there are hardships that happen during this time.

An example of this is that I often hear among my peers that they have confusing relationships with “negative emotions,” such as sadness or hurt. Many of my peers are the children of immigrant parents that were faced with the hardships of moving to a new country and having to build a new life for themselves, so those parents did not have the chance to set aside time to attend to the negative emotions that they experienced. Therefore, the strategies to dissociate from negative emotions were taught to the next generation. We are newly discovering the importance of attending to all emotions. Therefore, as the new generation is working on reconciling their relationship with negative emotions while being distanced from family, it could be confusing when being made to ‘re-mask’ these emotions upon rejoining the family. 

Taking the steps to reflect and change dysfunctional practices is a difficult task in itself. The path towards healing comes with many challenges, whether that be by becoming aware of our faults, taking steps to actively change harmful behaviors, or facing environments in which the habits are emphasized. However, confronting these challenges is worthwhile to keep future generations from enduring the same pains. Whether you are returning to campus after time at home or remaining home to embark on a period of remote learning, know that having complex feelings is okay. Take time to feel those emotions, take care of yourself, and look forward to what’s next – it will get better.